Biking Northern Michigan: part 2

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In my pre-trip research, Google was my best friend (as if it wasn’t already).  I’m familiar with Northern Michigan, but I needed to find hotels along my route because I wasn’t about camp.  Camping meant I would have to carry a tent on my bike.  I did see a group of young men who did such a thing, and maybe I will in the future, but not for my first cycling tour.  It was quickly obvious that I would not be able to find a hotel in the first two towns along the trail – Vanderbilt and Wolverine – because the towns are so small.  So, against the advice I read online – “take it easy on the first day” – my first day cycling would be my longest, clocking in at 30 miles to get from Gaylord to Indian River.  As my route would simply backtrack on the way back, this meant my last day cycling would also be my longest.

I will admit, cycling 30 miles on my first day was a bit overzealous, if necessary.  Though the clouds held back their rain, and the sun even came out a bit by the end of day one.  This section of the trail had the best scenery, but whizzing by on a bike did not provide the best opportunity to enjoy it.  Beautiful pine trees decorated both sides of the trail, swampy marshes popped up along the way, I was surrounded tons of birds, darting across the trail, and I saw the one deer that I spotted along my route.  She saw me, and then ran down the trail ahead of me for about 100 yards before ducking back in to the brush. 

Throughout my time on the trail, I used an app called Map My Run, which uses GPS to map out your route, and you can select different exercises that you performed, not just running.  Every mile, the app calls out how far you’ve gone, how long it has been, and your split pace.  While at first I found the app’s audible function unnecessary, by mile fifteen, it became a countdown.  Around mile twenty, I was weary, and turned on Spotify as loud as I could so that music powered me through the last miles.  I ate two granola bars, and drank all my water.

By the time I arrived at the Northwoods Lodge in Indian River, I was sweaty, sore, and tired.  My heart rate monitor said I burned over 2,000 calories.  I took a bath, because that’s all I could really manage at this time.

Indian River is a small town, with not much going on.  I got a recommendation from the hotel manager to check out The Inn Between, a bar in town, about a mile down the road.  The bar overlooks the river, Indian River, and has a patio which I imagine is pretty lively in the summer.  I had a couple beers, some food, and sat with locals around the bar.  The manager sat at the bar, while the young bartender served another gentleman and me at the bar.  An older, chatty gentleman came in, who eventually succeeded in purchasing a drink for the owner.  It was not received very well.  He bought me a drink too, and we chatted about his children, Alaska, and his dog.  There was a young man, who sat at a table against the wall, who apparently comes in nearly every day to use the WiFi to play video games on his computer.  After my meal, I tried to walk around the town a bit, but by 7 pm, the town had virtually shut down, and I went back to the hotel. 

I read my book, watched some TV, and tucked in somewhat early.  With the longest riding day under my belt, I was pleased with myself, and my nerves were all but gone.  I did not know what the trail ahead held for me, but I knew it was less than 30 miles per day.  I slept quite well that night.

Keep following this space for more posts about my trip!  Any questions or comments, leave them below!

exploringly yours,
Alaina

Biking Northern Michigan, in parts.

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Have you ever had vacation time from work, and literally no idea what do to with that time?  If you’re anything like me, you want to spend that precious time roaming, exploring, traveling somewhere new and different.  And, if you’re anything like me, the wide world leads to crippling anxiety when choosing a destination.  I floundered for the months leading up to my vacation – where to go?  Which friends to visit?  What deserved to be explored next?  I had a couple ideas that didn’t pan out, and I was left idealess.

Two brainstorming sessions, one with my mom and one with my boyfriend, produced the idea to cycle around Northern Michigan.  Michigan – my home state – is a beautiful state.  I’ve explored far-flung lands (Eastern Europe is pretty far-flung, right?) but haven’t spent as much time exploring Michigan as it deserves.

As it turns out, Northern Michigan is pretty cycling-friendly.  A couple Google searches led me to the North Central State Trail, a 62 mile long trail that runs from Gaylord to Mackinaw City.  As my parents have a cottage in Gaylord, this would be the perfect jumping off point.  The trail is an old railway line, so the route is flat and covered in gravel, which made for a slower go but was well groomed and very bike friendly.  In the winter, the trail is used by snowmobilers.  There is an entire network that connects a couple of other cities – Alpena, Petoskey, among others – but I chose to remain on the North Central State Trail, backtracking my route for the way home.

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I was briefly worried about how crazy my idea was – to bike this 120-mile round trip route, alone, with limited cycling experience.  But, looking at a map, the small towns along the route were separated by 5 miles at the short end, and 16 miles at the long end.  This helped to calm my nerves, as 16 miles was not completely unmanageable by foot, should something happen to my bike.

I did research.  I got a bicycle (yeah, I didn’t have one before this trip), a bike bag, bike pants, and chamois cream (my gear will be it’s own post – that epic).  I packed strategically so that I could carry everything on my bike’s rear rack.  I drove three hours to my parents’ cottage and got a good night’s sleep.

Still – on the day I was to leave, doubt hung in the back of my mind.  Who was I, who had barely ridden this new bike, to be taking off on a 120+ mile round trip cycling tour?  Would I be strong enough – in mind and body – to complete this journey?  But, despite my doubt, and the clouds, the weather was pleasant and the trail looked inviting, so I got on my bike and took off….

Keep your eye on this space, as I’ll be making posts over the next week detailing my trip!  Have you ever took a leap of faith on a crazy trip?  Have you ever been crippled by traveling-anxiety that you simply couldn’t book a trip?  Let me know in the comments below…!

exploringly yours,
Alaina

My Biography

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I grew up in an upper middle class suburb of Detroit.  Everything about the town – the people, the layout, the food – made me feel trapped.  My soul told me there was more to experience on this planet, an idea encouraged by my mom and my high school German teacher, Janie Barner.  My fondest memory of German class was a lesson Janie taught on travel vocabulary.  At the end she asked, “Now, who has been bitten by the travel bug?”  My heart swelled, and I knew I had been bitten, hard.  Within the next year, I travelled to Germany with my class, and the bug bit deeper.

I did not want to go to college.  Chiefly, I wanted to join the Peace Corps.  My parents pushed me toward the safer path of a four year degree.  I went away to school, earned a degree, a load of debt, and fell upon the perfect opportunity to work abroad.  After graduation, I spent two years teaching English in Austria and traveling Central and Eastern Europe.

I needed a special kind of courage to live and thrive on my own within a foreign country, system, and language.  I remember arriving in Bad Aussee, the small Austrian town where I would live and work.  It was dusk on a late summer day, and it had taken longer than anticipated to arrive.  I passed the address a couple of times before I found it.  My landlord stuck her head out of the window and greeted me.  I could barely understand a word from my landlord’s mouth!  Austrian German is different than the Hochdeutsch I had learned, and my landlord spoke in the unique Bad Aussee dialect.  With time, as the language became more comfortable, I learned to use dialect words in my German.

Months prior to my return to Michigan, I had doubts about how I would fit into my culture, my hometown, with my family and friends.  I moved back in with my parents, which provided a sense of comfort, and started nursing school.  Though, I missed Austria daily, my travels enabled me to see my hometown through a new filter.  I began to appreciate the quaint downtown and the nature trails.  But my desire to travel did not go away.  As the days marched on, and as nursing school became more of a nightmare, living with wanderlust was a lesson in patience.

Now, I am a nurse living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and I have had to readjust my feelings about travel.  Through my adolescent and college years, I saw travel as an escape from what I perceived as a boring life.  While I still feel wanderlust, I am learning that travel is more a frame of mind than a location.  With a sense of exploration, travel can be as easy as walking out the front door.

Exploringly yours,

Alaina

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(This was originally written as my first assignment – a biography – for the online travel writing course, MatadorU.)

Music for Travel: Homecoming by Josh Ritter

In continuing my Music for Travel series, I offer Homecoming by Josh Ritter for your consideration.  Again, BBC Scotland (specifically, the Roddy Hart Show) played this gem.  I had heard of Josh Ritter, but never really heard his music, and gosh darn it, this song hit me right in the feels.  I heard it toward the end of my trip (in Edinburgh, Scotland) just about when the wanderlust transitions to homesickness.  So, naturally, I listened to it on repeat until two in the morning, drinking red wine, and dreaming of home.  Take a listen…

This song is about exactly what the title says: homecoming.  Coming home, in the epic sense, is a journey the hero completes once she has passed the test and been transformed.  In this song, Josh sings of a home from which he has been torn away, a girl, and the places they were together.

The intro is calming, like a lullaby.  After the melody kicks in, the drums really take off.  It’s a forceful ballad, one I turn up as loud as it goes.  I stamp my foot to it around the kitchen.

Josh tells a story more than sings a song.  In this way, he transports the listener back to his or her own hometown.  His hometown, he says, is his everything, it has his heart.  Josh calls upon memories in his listener, and, in a haze, they appear: the people – family and friends – the listener left there, the girl the listener kissed or the boy the listener touched.  It’s empowering and sad; the listener recalls the reckless invincibility of adolescence, while understanding, now, that everyone is mortal.  The season is changing in the song, but the listener knows that for everything there is a season.

What treasure would the listener find at home?  Josh sings of a girl who is “not like the other girls,” he sings of wine and nights shared.  He treats the details with sacred reverence, referencing the Tree of Good and Evil, miracles, and oracles.  Indeed the past, a dreamy confusion of the owner’s thoughts, has it’s own kind of spiritual mysticism.

I feel a change in the weather
I feel a change in me
The days are getting shorter, and the birds begin to leave
Even me, yes, yes, y’all
Who has been so long alone
I’m headed home, headed home.

The nights are getting colder now
The air is getting crisp
I first tasted the universe on a night like this.

Maybe it’s because it is fall now, or maybe because fall is my favorite season, but the promise, the thrill, the desire, of tasting the universe seems within my grasp.  (Though, I think for Josh, “the universe” might be a metaphor for something else….)

Returning home signifies the culmination of a journey, the end of travel.  Is home where we make it?  Or where we feel it?  Or somewhere we cannot ever really go back to?  If you return physically home, is it still “home” if you yourself are transformed?  Or is home the cozy place where your mom still does all your laundry? : )

Give the song a listen, and let me know what you feel.

Exploringly yours,

Alaina

(Also, check out Josh’s own notes on the song.)

Music for Travel: Astral Weeks by Van Morrison

I love having a soundtrack to my travels.  This way, I can hear the song at a later point in life and recall the memories and experiences I had while on the road.  Typically, the most poignant songs for me are the ones that have an aching or longing theme, particularly for home or a person.

There are a couple of songs that I loved during my trip to the United Kingdom, but the first song I’m going to showcase is… Astral Weeks by Van Morrison.  If you’ve never heard this work of art (or if you have) take a listen below…

I heard this song while I was staying in Edinburgh, Scotland (shout out to BBC Radio Scotland).  Having been raised on Van Morrison (shout out to my mama), he already holds a special place in my heart.  However, I only recently started to really explore his music catalogue.  When I heard this song on the radio, it blew me away.  I had heard it before, but never really listened.  The melody of the guitars, the flute chirping along in the background, the fluttering strings – it puts me in a mind for spring.  A blindingly sunny, bluebird skies kind of day.

And then the lyrics.  It’s a song about a woman that Van is watching as she goes about her domestic life and caring for her child.  It listens like a love song, but not a love that has happened in this place or time (“In another time, in another place” are lyrics Van repeats toward the end).  As such, the word “astral” is defined as relating to or resembling the stars.  In addition, the astral plane is “a supposed non-physical realm of existence to which various psychic and paranormal phenomena are ascribed, and in which the physical human body is said to have a counterpart.”  It’s a song about a deep desire for a love that is not of this world, time, or place.

The following lyrics solidify my love of this song, and highlight my longing feelings of home and the people I love while I’m traveling.

From the far side of the ocean
If I put the wheels in motion
And I stand with my arms behind me
And I’m pushin’ on the door
Could you find me?
Would you kiss-a my eyes?

This song conveys the desire for love, the desire to want to be with someone that you cannot be with in this very moment.

Give the song a listen and let me know what you think.

Exploringly yours,

Alaina